Next week, Nelson County will vote on whether or not to join a multitude of other localities in becoming a Second Amendment sanctuary.
In late November, Jesse Rutherford, East District representative on the board of supervisors, announced on his Facebook page he would ask fellow supervisors to consider a resolution declaring “that Nelson County support the Constitution and stand against infringements on the Second Amendment.”
Originally Rutherford said he would bring it up as a directive, but with overwhelming support for the movement, the topic has been added to the agenda for the Dec. 10 meeting. In a separate interview with Rutherford, he said the possibility of Second Amendment rights being infringed upon on the state level is too important not to bring up in Nelson.
“I really hate taking state politics onto the local level unless it’s very personal. We are locally elected officials. One of the most important rights is the Second Amendment. It’s one way we guarantee ourselves free citizens,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford said while the possible resolution, like those in neighboring localities is symbolic, he would work to ensure that no local funds go toward supporting unconstitutional laws.
“I hope the state assembly realizes they are creating a bigger divide between rural and urban Virginia. I hope Virginia will look and take note in the disparity in this issue,” Rutherford said. “You can’t have the Second Amendment without the Constitution and you can’t have the Constitution without the Second Amendment.”
Central District supervisor Ernie Reed said he is not in favor of bringing this up at the Dec. 10 meeting.
“I believe that this action is neither appropriate nor pre-ordained. Such an action is not to be taken so lightly as the legal and economic consequences could be substantial,” Reed said in an email on Nov. 29.
Reed said the economy of Nelson will be affected because of the outcome a sanctuary could have on the ever growing tourism industry in the county.
“The Nelson County economy is very different from those of Appomattox, Campbell, Carroll, Pittsylvania or Franklin counties. We have a strong tourist economy. Visitors from Northern Virginia and other more urban regions where gun control is a priority may not feel as comfortable relaxing or recreating where state or nationwide regulations are unenforced,” Reed said in a separate email on Nov. 30.
U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-5th, said he supports the movement but believes the issue has to be addressed correctly.
“My only worry is that law enforcement will be put in a bit of a pickle. I want to do things right, but I understand the angst. I think the anger and fear you see right now is really indicative of what’s happening in the polarizing of politics in Virginia and nationwide,” Riggleman said.
Riggleman said that fear and angst throughout Virginia right now is due in part because Virginia has always been “a cradle of constitutional rights.” Riggleman also said a lot of the upset is toward possible “red flag laws” that would enable law enforcement to temporarily take weapons from an individual deemed to pose a threat to themselves or others.
“This is one state where it all began. The anger and frustrations will create constitutional challenges to these laws,” Riggleman said.
Riggleman disagreed with the idea this issue splits urban and rural Virginia.
“This has nothing to do with urban and rural, but with people wanting to defend their constitutional rights as citizens of the United States of America,” Riggleman said.
Nelson County resident Larry Stopper said he believes the movement across Virginia is not necessary.
“I heard about this on the news yesterday and I thought, ‘Good Lord. We have 330 million guns in the country and there is a sanctuary needed for gun owners?’ That struck me as bizarre,” Stopper said on Nov. 22.
According to Politifact, a nonprofit fact checking website, there are only estimates of the number of civilian guns in the United States, but the estimates are as high as 393 million as of 2018.
Stopper is the head of the Nelson County Democratic Committee but said he doesn’t speak for the group on this issue and, because he hasn’t seen the proposed resolution, didn’t want to comment on the specifics of Nelson’s resolution.
“From my personal standpoint, thank heaven we will get legislation to start to address the gun violence epidemic in this country. Maybe we can slow it; we certainly can’t stop it. If we can prevent one death by enacting background check legislation and other means I feel it’s well worth it,” Stopper said.
In July, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed several pieces of legislation including bans on assault weapons; red flag laws or Extreme Risk Protection Order, that would “temporarily separate a person from firearms if the person exhibits dangerous behavior that presents an immediate threat to self or others;” and legislation banning “dangerous weapons” which would include bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers.
Riggleman and Stopper are both confident some, if not all, of the proposed legislation will be passed; Riggleman with 95% certainty.
“I think they are going to be passed. I don’t think they will be vetoed,” Riggleman said.
A Second Amendment sanctuary resolution will be presented in the agenda for the Dec. 10 Nelson County Board of Supervisors meeting at 2 p.m., according to Rutherford.
Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.